Monday, May 14, 2012

The Article You Knew Was Coming: The Da Vinci Code, A Personal Opinion.

I should probably start with a disclaimer: You do not have to hate Dan Brown, any of his works, or any of the movies based off of his books, in order to enjoy A Pius Man. Promise. You'll see why.

My family has been big on reading since my father was twelve. I read The Once and Future King when I was in sixth grade—for personal pleasure. My freshman year of high school had my English professor confused when I finished off one Tom Clancy novel a week. And I mean the big ones that could be used for door stoppers.

So, when I started in on The Da Vinci Code, I figured it would be yet another book. You can sell me practically anything as long it's a well-designed, good story. I could not care any less about saving the whales, but I enjoyed Star Trek IV anyway. I don't think the CIA is the source of all evil, but I liked the film The Long Kiss Goodnight, since it was entertaining—and since the primary villain was a bureaucrat. From what I had gathered about the premise of Dan Brown's work, I was certain that I could take it or leave it, and I had been assured that it was a rip-roaring good time.

So, in that vein, I was given The Da Vinci Code, I was told to ignore the bad history, enjoy it for what it was …And what was it?

The pretentious, petty, pedantic prattling was one thing. And my God, can that man lecture. Having survived grad school, I've been to boring seminars before, but they at least had the good manners to provide me with free food and coffee. I skipped pages and pages of lecture, and bad history, and “My God sir, what fantasy world did you get that history FROM?”

And the content … I have had friends of mine look at his Gaia-ish, pseudo-feminist look at sex and spirituality. My Wiccan ex considered recreating the Wiccer Man, with Dan Brown in the center before they set it, and him, on fire.

And you thought Christians were the only ones who had problems with his views.

However: that isn't a problem for me. I've read Clive Cussler books that went on, endlessly, about fictionalized history that, in some cases, only tangentially touched on the main plot. And I've read everything Cussler's written, and enjoyed about 90% of his body of work. I could skim history lectures, I could skip them. I'm fairly good at knowing when to ignore large parts of dreck in books without having it affect the story. And I have experience sleeping through lectures.

So, if I wasn't massive offended by the main premise and the history, or enraged, or having a (Bruce) Banner moment, why didn't I enjoy it as much as everyone else had?

There's this phrase in writing fiction that's called the suspension of disbelief …{more below the break}


The first few pages had to have the reader believe that an older gentleman was running around the Louvre, scrawling codes on major works of art in invisible marker, while being chased by a psychotic albino-monk-assassin with a bad limp …

Wait, really? I'm sorry, that loud SNAP was the sound of my credulity being stretched past the breaking point.

The victim is supposed to be a highly intelligent curator of the Louvre—he's certainly smart enough to utilize the security system to trigger blockades between him and the killer, and smart enough to design, develop, and lay coded clues all over the bloody place, while he's on the run.... but he's not smart enough to hide anywhere, lay in wait with a blunt object of some sort, or use his unique knowledge of the museum to get the hell out of the building? And he's the curator. He's got ALL THE KEYS.

Also, considering the amount of time it takes to get to some of these pieces—like taking out a key to unlock the security glass, in order to scribble on a painting by Leonardo Da Vinci—you have to imagine how long that would take. If the killer was so slow as to allow our victim time to scrawl these clues all over the place, one would think that our victim could have used those precious seconds (more like minutes) to escape altogether.

And that's just the prologue.

PAGES 1-100.

By page one hundred, our main protagonists have outsmarted the ultra-Conservative Catholic Parisian policeman and his henchman, and escaped the Louvre, after one of them used the Mona Lisa as a shield …

That SMACK was my credulity whipping back around after the FIRST time it broke.

Looking over the run-on sentence... It took two supposedly brilliant people that long to get out of the Louvre? Really?

Also—an “ultra-Catholic Parisian.” Didn't they kill off all of those in the 1790s? Great big revolution? Great big Guillotine? According to Frenchmen I know, any practicing Catholics are all rural, or they've moved to the United States (which is why I met them in Manhattan).

Finally—who is going to use the Mona Lisa for a shield? Especially after you get it out from behind the security glass? The Mona Lisa is about 30”x21,” and wouldn't cover a standard midget. A competent policeman should be able to go for the legs, kneecaps, head, lower abdomen, practically anywhere. Also, if a cop is confronted by a suspect, who is in league with a suspected murderer, can you imagine any police officer letting a painting stand in the way?

I can just hear the standard New York City cop now.: “Oh, look, it's not painted on Kevlar … that's what art reconstruction departments are for.” Game over.

Even the “ultra-Catholic Parisian” chasing our duo would later look at the police officer from the Mona Lisa debacle and said “Next time, SHOOT THE PAINTING.”

As I said, this is just the first hundred pages...........


Looking at more general issues, there were the characters. I was not intimidated by the antagonists. Every villain who came within striking distance of our protagonists were crippled—one was self flagellating, the other could barely walk.

At the end of the day, I thought even the killer albino had more color than the protagonists, no pun intended. Then again, from my point of view, when I write a character, I could write you a biography that could trace back to the grandparents.

The killer albino had a back story; crazy, but for some reason, I could empathize with him. I liked the Paris cop as soon as he said, “Next time, shoot the painting.”

With the protagonists, the female lead had family history that was a standard cliché (parents dead from auto accident, raised by and estranged from the victim from the prologue), and our male lead had none at all. I can't remember any parents, quirks, hobbies, charming idiosyncrasies, nothing. He was as personally colorless as the albino was pigmentally-challenged.

Anyone who has seen Alfred Hitchcock movies knows that having a detailed biography sketched out isn't required to make a sympathetic character—Cary Grant in Notorious, or Jimmy Stewart in any Hitchcock role, lacked any such details. But they had character and personality. The male lead of The Da Vinci Code seemed to be there for the sole purpose of spouting out theories, preaching at the audience, or running away from half-crippled assailants …

On the other hand, I have friends with multiple personalities, bipolar issues, over the top rhetorical styles, and I have served as public confessional to nearly everyone who has crossed my path for the last ten years. It's quite possible that the professor-hero of the novel had all sorts of of interesting traits, but were too subtle in comparison to the colorful people I deal with.

So, it may just be me … but I don't think so.


One running theme is that there is a conspiracy of silence running around within the Vatican, the hierarchy, pick one or all. This pops up in almost any fiction where a Catholic priest appears. We even had the obligatory evil Cardinal. I covered a lot of this problem in the article on why I'm amused by Catholic Conspiracies.

In the Code, the focus is on the evil secret society, the Opus Dei … According to reporter John L. Allen, all you need to do to get the Opus Dei to open up is buy them a few rounds. Then the trouble becomes trying to shut them up. And Opus Dei is primarily a lay organization. Of its nearly 90,000 members, only 2% are priests. And, somehow, the only member of the laity involved in this ordeal … isn't a member of Opus Dei.

Also, I have another problem, one that has great big flashing red lights. This big secret, this threat to the Catholic Church, maybe even all of Christendom, is being handled by … a Cardinal and his pet killer?

I'm sorry, wait, we were just discussing a massive conspiracy, weren't we? One that goes back THOUSANDS of years. Shouldn't this be a discussion at the upper echelons of the Vatican food chain? Shouldn't the Pope be in on this? Where are the Vatican ninjas? According to Dan Brown's world, the new Pope of Angels & Demons wouldn't do anything like that, so the Vatican wouldn't do such things … “anymore.”

Anymore? You mean there were Vatican ninjas?




And, still, if I'm leading a great big coverup, and only three people stood in my way, I'm going to see if I could at least co-opt a few Swiss Guards with Special Forces training, send them out, and kill everyone involved. My main hit man will not be self-mutilating, and will not stick out like a sore thumb. Our psycho albino-monk-assassin has no qualifications for being an assassin, other than that he has all the remorse of your average serial killer, and that he has puppy-like loyalty to our “evil” Cardinal.

I have college friends who are better qualified to be Vatican Assassins, and they're Jewish.

Lucky for Dan Brown's heroes, all of his villains are dirt stupid, and they can't seem to afford a proper hitman.


When I finished reading Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum, I thought “Wow, he was making fun of Dan Brown decades before anyone heard of Brown.” The punchline of the book was [SPOILER ALERT, SPOILER ALERT]: “Our computer linked together a conspiracy theory that doesn't exist, but the bad guys are people with no depth, no soul, who justify their existence by reaching out for some grand conspiracy that never happened. And they will see whatever they want to see, as long as their search continues."


Funny thing, Umberto Eco said in an inerview with The Paris Review: "Dan Brown is a character from Foucault’s Pendulum! I invented him. He shares my characters’ fascinations—the world conspiracy of Rosicrucians, Masons, and Jesuits. The role of the Knights Templar. The hermetic secret. The principle that everything is connected. I suspect Dan Brown might not even exist."

So, I'm not alone in my opinion. Even Salman Rushie once said, "Do not start me on 'The Da Vinci Code,' A novel so bad that it gives bad novels a bad name."

And British actor Stephen Fry, a man so civilized I feel like a barbarian has said … things I will not write in this blog. But I will gleefully link to it:


A non-spoiler for the ending is simple: At one point, we have our albino monk-assassin, lost and alone, standing in the rain, reflecting on his life. And that was the last we saw of the character. Nothing else. There was no end to him, no conclusion to his story arc, not a bloody word about what happened to him.

According to Wikipedia, the albino dies from gunshot wounds accrued from a French policeman.

After I conferred with multiple other readers of this piece of drek, we are all of the same opinion: we have no idea how Wikipedia came to this particular conclusion.

******SPOILER ALERT.**************

The end of the novel wasn't especially offensive. If you believe that Jesus was a glorified philosopher or prophet, then the ending is possible...Thomas Jefferson did it in his version of the Bible (like the regular bible, only with the miracles taken out of it).

So, having Jesus as a guy who shacked up with Mary Magdalene, spawned, and all that, isn't all that out there. Especially if you can believe that any human being in his right mind would try preaching anything like the Bible during Imperial Rome.

However: between the 1860s and the 1960s, every direct descendant of Abraham Lincoln has died. Trying to imagine a direct bloodline that has lasted for two thousand years is hard enough—but a secret society who has tracked the genealogy throughout all of Europe, as the bloodline expands to create Europe's monarchies? Really? Not even the the Mormons are that good at genealogies....

*******END SPOILER************

All of that said, my problem with The Da Vinci Code is just that—mine. My issues, my problem, my sense that the plot did not sell itself. Nothing clicked for me. The characters, the premise, the execution, all of it fell flat.

The original title I had for this article was too long: Why I dislike The Da Vinci Code, and why you can take or leave it. But that's a fairly good summary.

But, while I did not enjoy The Da Vinci Code, I refuse to use it as my own personal punching bag so I can pimp out A Pius Man. I do not intend to level any insults at it, and this article is as far as any critique will go.

Though, in A Pius Man, I have no conspiracy older than seventy years old. I have a perfectly good reason to have all of the conspiracies staying secret. And my historical facts are actually facts. Why? Because my first draft had footnotes.

I started with a disclaimer—You don't have to hate Dan Brown, his works, or anything resembling his books in order to enjoy A Pius Man. And, at the end of the day, I suspect the converse is also true—that if you loved his books, you don't have to hate mine.

However, if you feel that you do have to hate mine, feel free to tell everyone how you hate the premise. And the book. And everything about it. Tell them all about A Pius Man, and why it sucks.

Just spell the title correctly.


  1. Nice post. I learn something new and challenging on blogs I stumbleupon every day.

    It will always be helpful to read through articles from other
    authors and use a little something from their web sites.
    my web site: Posted by My Industrial Injury

  2. I will say that while you cover the book here, you should also cover the movie (which more people will have seen, I'm figuring). And I think you're aiming for calling the main character a walking "Ex Machina".

    That isn't just dreck, it's insultingly so. And it borders on anti-Catholicism to the point where I think it's blatantly racist (although I don't think Ron Howard saw that).


Please, by all means, leave a message below. I welcome any and all comments. However, language that could not make it to network television will result in your comment being deleted. I don';t like saying it, but prior events have shown me that I need to. Thanks.